Now the seeding games will play a crucial role in determining the postseaon brackets with only narrow differences in the records of top teams in either conference. But we're more or less aware of which teams are likely to make it to the NBA Playoffs this season.
Surprises galore in the NBA Playoffs?
Like always, we can expect a few surprises this season as well, heading into the postseason. It's more likely this time around, with home advantages amiss at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Some franchises will be looking to make the most of this to come out as giant killers. On that note, let us look at five dark horses for the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
#5 Philadelphia 76ers
With a record of 39-26 so far, the Philadelphia 76ers have most certainly failed to meet the expectations set by their 5-0 start to the season. At the same time, their 29-2 home form speaks volumes of the imperious things this franchise can do.
Brett Brown's men have the second easiest schedule for the seeding games so expect them to make good use of it and improve on their sixth seed standing right now.
Joel Embiid has also quashed all rumors about discontent between him and Ben Simmons. Additionally, Shake Milton's scoring gives Philly an additional weapon in their quest for the NBA Playoffs.
The 76ers need to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Boston Celtics in the first round. If they do that, there's no reason why they cannot beat either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in a seven-game series to make it to the second round of the NBA Playoffs at the very least.
#4 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the biggest benefactors of the NBA suspension. They have two key players in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins making their return for the restart. Protecting the paint has been an issue for the Blazers despite the presence of Hassan Whiteside so expect them to do better in that aspect.
Portland is still quite a bit distant from confirming a bert in NBA Playoffs 2020. But this is the same team that made the Western Conference Finals last year behind the efforts of their backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Trevor Ariza's 3-and-D presence will be missed, but if Dame Dolla catches fire, he will be taking no prisoners.
The odds are stacked against Portland as of now. They have a very tough schedule ahead of them and will most likely face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But they've already managed to beat the Purple and Gold at the Staples Center once this season, so there's no doubt that they could easily stretch LeBron James and co. to an extended first round in the NBA Playoffs.
#3 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn't have been in postseason contention, but as of today, they're just one game away from securing a top 4 seed in the West. The worst part about this franchise is that it has no single superstar who will hold the ball at all times. And this is exactly what has helped them to thrive as a team.
The Thunder have three players producing 19 or more points a game. Add Chris Paul's almost 18 points an outing to it and you have ample scoring options for the NBA Playoffs. Let's not forget that this is the most clutch team in the NBA. The Thunder have played 42 clutch games this season, winning 29 of them.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have looked in fine form in the NBA scrimmages as well, winning all three of their practice games. The addition of Andre Roberson is a huge bonus for Billy Donovan's men. So expect the Thunder to at least make it the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
#2 Houston Rockets
All things considered, the Houston Rockets have blown hot and cold too often to be considered as serious bets for the NBA Playoffs. But their unpredictability is what makes them so difficult to beat, especially in a seven-game series.
James Harden has dropped 30-point games in the scrimmages to show that he means business. Russell Westbrook will slowly get back to being his explosive self. And somehow, Mike D'Antoni's small-ball is thriving.
Yes, the loss of Eric Gordon for two weeks will be a huge miss. But, the Rockets are also just one game shy of the fourth seed in the West. Expect them to be a nuisance to any team they face in the NBA Playoffs.
#1 Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks haven't been in the NBA Playoffs for a while and this is why you don't really know how they will respond to clutch situations with the season on the line. However, the biggest possible boost that they could receive is that both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are fit and firing.
The Mavericks have shooting depth as well, with Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr being reliable scorers. The ever-reliable JJ Barea is also there to knock down a few shots in the clutch.
A rather lenient schedule will not only allow the Mavs to improve on their seventh seed, but it will also allow them to enter the NBA Playoffs without really tiring out much in the seeding games. And if they are fresh enough, expect their league-best offense to work its cha in the postseason.
Published 30 Jul 2020, 23:59 IST